Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Waterfront Finance Centre Gardens: Concept and Reality

I suspect that the fantasy below will never come to fruition – it is supposed to be part of the JDC's plans for the Finance Centre. With the focus on office blocks, this part of the planned development has been left very much in the shadows, and yet it is on the website, along with a colourful photo made to show what it would look like (which can also be seen above). Something else for scrutiny to consider – and the cost of maintenance of this idyll as well.

“At the heart of the JIFC is a new public park that will provide an attractive setting for the new buildings and a valuable amenity for the wider community. The park will be predominately soft landscaped showcasing the varying characters that the landscape of Jersey has to offer. The new park will include a number of semi-mature trees that will provide shade on sunny days and an array of foliage colour and blossom through the year.”

“The development will also include significant landscape improvements to The Esplanade, creating a Boulevard feel. Semi-mature trees will be planted along the Esplanade to reinforce a grand entrance to St. Helier.”

“Historically The Esplanade formed an edge to the original sea wall, most of which is still present but hidden below ground. This historic sea wall will be uncovered and restored as a unique feature of the development and a water feature will run the length of the sea wall creating a moat which will be visible from the pedestrian bridges linking to the receptions of the office buildings.”

I asked a horticultural expert, Adam Gardiner, for his views on the proposed development

The Waterfront Trees: Concept and Reality
By Adam Gardiner

The architects and concept artists always show a scene that is considerably overstated and in reality would take 20 years or more to achieve even assuming optimum growing conditions.

While there are several species of tree that may suit the site, the chances of them growing to the dimensions and shape as often shown is at best hopeful. The soil can be ameliorated to give trees a good start, but beyond the reality is no one gives them any of the attention they would need to be able to achieve anything near their potential - as all too often depicted in concept drawings.

The car park had several trees planted along the Esplanade side which became reasonably well established as they enjoyed just enough shelter, but tree planting elsewhere on the site was decidedly unsuccessful with those few that did survive becoming either stunted and misshapen or simply refused to grow. That is due to poor management (disinterest) and the exposed position. You may note that there is tree planting on the Jardins de la Mer. They are growing but they are all pines - about the only species that can handle the tough conditions - and then only just.

It has to be considered that the Waterfront and Esplanade in general takes the brunt of our prevailing wind - West to South West. That wind is salt laden coming as it does straight off the sea. Finding species that can deal with that when we read of blossoms and foliage colour is wishful thinking. Also to be taken into account are the buildings they are intended to surround.They will produce shade as well as unusual wind patterns, not forgetting the venturi principle where buildings stacked close together will compress the air flow and increase its speed. That is already apparent on the concourse in front of the Tourism Office - a wind tunnel. It is also a well known fact that transplanted semi-mature trees can be very difficult to establish, the failure rate can be high even in good locations. The trees currently tub-planted opposite the bus station were first planted about 8 years ago and far enough away from the shoreline to have some sort of prospect of surviving - but you would hardly say that are flourishing!

They talk of an avenue off trees. The avenue on La Route du Port Elizabeth (from roundabout above underpass to Maritime House) is partially successful - although what we have is hardly yet a shady avenue either - that after 15 years or more from planting. The trees used are a form of maple - to be more precise Acer griseum (a relative of sycamore). They had half a chance because they stand in the lee of Aquasplash and the reclaimed land beyond and not planted too close to buildings and thus less prone to the effects of eddying winds you get around solid structures.

That all said I am sure that tree planting along the Esplande and on the proposed Financial Quarter site is possible and maybe some may establish reasonably well, note some - but no-one should expect it to look anything like the scheme shown in an architects drawing.

So far as the Finance site public park is concerned they don’t say who is in fact going to look after it. Who is going to foot the bill for its maintenance? We have to assume TTS but where do they find the resources to add another area to their list of public parks if indeed a park created by JDC can be a public park - the land is owned by JDC not the public. Are the rents to include a levy for landscape maintenance ‘In perpetuum’ or will it fall to the already hard-pressed St. Helier ratepayer if not now at some later stage?

I perhaps agree with you - all considered pie in the sky; yet another attempt to soften public opinion with the promise of a park which to be honest is probably undeliverable. I would also say that the time any surviving tree able to provide shade from the sun is a long, long way off - as I say 20 years at least. A better prognosis might be never!

As our Chief Minister might say - ‘it’s a challenge’.

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